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Top 10 Nonfiction Posts of 2008

Every year at the end of December I post a list of my ten favorite blog posts from the year now ending. This year I've compiled two such lists: one of my favorite nonfiction posts, another of my favorite poems. (Here's the first one; I'll post the second one in a day or two.) [ETA: Top ten poetry posts of 2008.]

Rereading the year-in-blog-posts, I'm reminded of what a rollercoaster this year has been. Thanks for being part of the conversation here during 2008; here's to 2009!


A place where prayer can dwell. "I think our multifaceted nature is both our boon and our greatest challenge. We're a patchwork religious movement. My other Jewish identity, Jewish Renewal, is also a many-splendored thing, a patchwork quilt of ideas and practices and teachings; of course, Renewal is actively transdenominational, so a certain patchwork nature is presumed. Reform Judaism aims to be a single unitary denomination -- though one which can include, for instance, my parents' congregation (historically a classical Reform institution) and mine (which lives out Reform values in a decidedly nontraditional way.) My guess is that this siddur will challenge both of our communities, though in different ways. Maybe that's a sign that its creators have crafted something interesting and complex."

Brokenness and purity. "Why did the children of Israel save the shards of the broken tablets? Why not destroy them, or leave them behind in the desert? Surely no one there wanted to keep them as mementos of one of the community's strongest lapses of faith? But the tradition teaches us that the broken tablets were preserved as a sign that holiness persists even in our brokenness. Sometimes our brokenness, our mistakes, are what we have to offer to God...and that's worthy of preservation along with the aspects of us which are whole."

Beginning to wrestle. "During the first few years of this blog's existence, I didn't write about Israel. Because I wanted to quietly challenge the assumption that a Judaism-focused blog must necessarily be Israel-focused. Because I figured the last thing the internet needs is another person pontificating about a place she barely knows. Because most online discourse about Israel and Palestine is hotheaded and partisan. Because time and energy and passion are limited resources, and it often seems that so much of these go to Israel that little is left for other aspects of Jewish identity and experience. // All of those reasons still hold. And yet I'm beginning to grapple with what it will mean to shift this unofficial blog policy (and, more importantly, to shift the internal focus behind it) because this summer I'm going to spend seven weeks in Jerusalem."

To market, to market. "As soon as I stepped past the security guard at the gate I was grinning. The market is covered by translucent greenhouse-style ceilings, and everywhere are piles of beautiful vegetables: peppers, eggplants, leeks, potatoes. (It reminded me a little bit of the Hungarian indoor farmer's market where Janet took us last year.) The air is redolent with parsley and mint and cilantro, with spices and fish scales and baked goods. I walked past spice merchants (burlap sacks filled with brilliant colored powders), tea merchants (rooibos and green tea speckled with flowers), piles of honeyed baklava. Glass cases containing cheeses. Chickens and hunks of beef and piles upon piles of whole glistening fish."

A day in Bethlehem and Hebron. "The Palestinian community isn't a monolith, any more than the Israeli community is. Still, it's hard for me to bump up against these stark differences in perspective. According to one narrative, the settlers are justified in their actions because God promised all of this land to the Jews, and anyway the Palestinians are untrustworthy partners in the so-called peace process. According to another, the settlers are destroying any chance of a just peace because their settlements are turning the West Bank into Swiss cheese (thereby putting an end to the dream of two viable states.) I don't really know what to do with the clash between those two stories. The real question for me is, how will the peoples of this place ever break out of the cycle of trauma in which they are collectively enmeshed?"

The All Nations Café. "A doumbek and oud materialized, and there was some singing. Pots of strong coffee were made over the fire, and Abed made sure I was given a glass, which I sipped gratefully. Then Daphna suggested we go around the circle and each share a word or two about who we are and what we are feeling. Though someone complained half-jokingly that music is the true universal language, the instruments were set aside for the moment so we could each speak. About twenty of us were present at that point, and it took a while to go around the tent. Some of the Palestinians translated their own remarks into English, and some of the Israelis translated their own remarks into Arabic; Hamdan translated graciously for everyone else. 

So long, farewell. "The primary thing I've learned about Jerusalem is that it's always more complicated than one might imagine. Even the topography is complicated. Every place seems to be at least two things at once: where the Dome of the Rock now stands is where the Temple once stood. Where a house now stands, an orchard once stood. Where a pile of rubble now stands, a house once stood. Every place means something to somebody -- usually to at least two somebodies who don't agree. Even maps have an agenda, because if a map is using one set of names, it's not using the others. Nothing here is simple."

My first Yom Kippur. "Ask any rabbi about their first time leading High Holiday services, and I'm guessing you'll get a wry smile and memories of an emotional rollercoaster. It's easy to get overwhelmed with preparations. The High Holiday liturgy is rich and dense. And we know, as clergy, that it's our job to facilitate what's supposed to be one of the most intense spiritual experiences of the year -- but who can guarantee what kind of experience the members of a community will have, no matter how good the shaliach tzibbur's intentions may be or how hard she works at preparing the service she thinks the community wants and needs?"

On Transformative Works. "Active Jewishness is a writerly thing. We're obsessed with texts, and our tradition includes the strong expectation that each of us will be in conversation with those texts all our lives. Sometimes that conversation takes highly creative forms, so there's a sense that creativity is a legitimate way to respond to the texts we hold dear. All of this was fermenting in me in 1999, the year I was first introduced to fanfiction and fanvids: transformative works of a different kind."

Mai Chanukah. "Chanukah has been different things to different people over time; it's different things to different people even now. That's a lot of layers of context for what is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly minor Jewish holiday. But the multivalent character of the holiday speaks to something I deeply love about Judaism: that the tradition is always multivocal. That there's always more than one answer to every question. That our interpretations change over time, as our understandings of God and Torah and our relationship with the world change over time. That a holiday which could start out as a commemoration of military victory could turn into a holiday celebrating a leap of faith, into a holiday inviting us to purify our hearts, into a chance to hang out and eat fried foods and sing songs and exchange presents, into all of the above at the same time."


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